Hi everyone,

It’s the run up to exams week, so I’m kinda trying to stay afloat my pile of assignments and exams. I promise I’ll be working on this blog in about a week’s time. In the mean time, I’m getting all ready to leave Columbia since it’s coming to an end of my study abroad experience in the U.S. and it’s been AMAZING! I totally love this entire experience and it’s blown my mind away.

I’m still trying to figure out what to do with this blog. I love the idea of this so I might continue to update with more new friends as I meet them along the way half-way across the globe!

Jie Yi

Kristen Overmyer: Being different

After knowing Kristen (KO thereafter), she has taught me a couple of lessons that I could take away from my study abroad program in Missouri.

1. It’s okay to be different.
2. It’s not only okay to be different but it’s also okay to embrace it.
3. Accepting it is not enough, you will need to live up to what you believe in, even if it means to be different.

So as not to repeat the story that I’ve done about her before, check out Kristen’s three-year battle with her horrible illness on MyMissourian website.

Back to the lessons that I learned from KO:
KO is the most open LGBT friend I’ve ever had, and I seriously do mean it. When I first got to know her at the start of the year, I was taken aback by her frankness in telling the whole class that she has a partner and her sexual preferences. My reaction was more of a cultural shock than anything else.

KO and Elisha
I know of friends who are homosexuals and have been together for many years. But their relationship are still hush-hush affairs that they keep from their families. They struggle to reconcile their sexual preferences with god, with new friends that they meet and even with their future together. As I watch them grow, I learn about their struggles to find their identity within Asian societies. People are less accepting in Asia of LGBT folks, especially so in Singapore where they have minimal level of rights protection.

For KO to tell everyone, including classmates that she met for the first time, she is a lesbian, was to me, liberating. As I got to know KO, I realized she was frank about most things that people are usually too embarrassed to talk about. She would tell anyone about her not having a large intestine or about her voluptuous boobs.

Her family members are also very supportive of her choices.

Screen shot from Facebook

It has always been difficult to be different but with a dose of encouragement from your family and friends, KO made me realized that there is nothing wrong with being the odd one out. Perhaps it is because American societies are more liberal such that differences are more easily accepted. At the same time, it also takes a lot for you, as an individual, to wear your differences on your sleeve. You’ll be the one that sticks out, but also the one that others can remember best.

To KO: We must meet up before I leave!

Anna Curtis: Wannabe gypsy

Anna during our photography lesson
Anna and I both attend a weekly photographic class that we’ve signed up at Mizzou’s Craft Studio. We had an photography outing today to Columbia Cemetery, and I have no idea where it was. It was also my first time at a cemetery and it was a whole-new experience for me to be with the spirits at dusk!

Anna kindly drove me to the cemetery and we went into a pretty interesting conversation about cultures. Coming from the Cream City of Milwaukee, she dreams about wanting to travel around the world and visit places beyond America. She’s been to some places in Europe but she wanted to go to more places, stretching from the African continent all the way to Asia.

In fact, she confesses that she doesn’t see herself all that American and cannot relish herself retiring anywhere in this country. Well, she doesn’t like pizza, how un-American can that be? Unfortunately, when she had the bowl of Mac and Cheese, I knew she was still, in some ways, American. (Sorry to all Mac & Cheese lovers!)

She hopes to be able to study abroad in Argentina, place of the sexy tango dance. Argentina is definitely on my to-go list too!

I realized Anna is not alone in this wave of students who want to study abroad. I’ve heard it from many friends whom I’ve talked to and most of them will easily list Europe as one of their top destinations.

I would have to admit that I was shocked in my first few lessons when I realized that most people here have yet to leave America. Some never went to New York before, some never left MIzzou and some never took the airplane before. But many college students have YET TO, but WANT TO visit as many countries as possible.

In Asia, my conception (I try not to speak for everyone) of Americans used to be that they are well traveled and globe trotters, probably because corporate America seeps into all our societies. Yet in reality, only the corporates did, not so much the Americans did.

Somehow, the desire to move beyond our comfort zone and explore the other parts of the world is something that transcends nationalities, races and gender. Perhaps it’s because we’re all at the age of transition into adulthood, at the point where we feel a overwhelming sense of restlessness about what we have at hand. We need some change to feel our existence, to have an aim to work towards and something surprising to look forward to.

Change becomes an entirely different concept as we grow older. I overheard a middle-aged man talking to his friend in a cafe about his trip to Japan. He hated the food there (calling sushi sticky rice) and was put off by the concept of having to use the ‘two sticks’ to eat.

I like the way Anna talked whenever she mentions about wanting to travel around the world. Her zest and energy towards exploring uncharted waters makes me think of her as a wannabe gypsy.

Pictures taken by Anna at the Columbia Cemetery.
Vodpod videos no longer available.

Simin Wang: Freedom

Simin at St. Louis Zoo
Simin at St. Louis Zoo

Simin was one of the first few friends that I made when I came over to Mizzou. Even though we’re enrolled in different colleges, we had commonalities that gelled us together in this foreign land.:

1. We’re all exchange students at the J-school
2. We all live in the same dormitory, in fact Simin’s room is right beside mine.
3. We’re all Singaporeans and went through the same education system, same culture for the past 20 years of our lives.

Last weekend, we took a trip down to St. Louis, the first time we’ve left Columbia, this little university town, since we arrived here in January. We had a lot of fun, did crazy and some dangerous stuff.

What struck me during the trip was a sentence that Simin said repeatedly, probably unconsciously, “It feels good to be free!” I asked her again why does she not feel free prior to the St. Louis trip? Her reply was, “Over here, I feel like a child again. It feels like freedom.”

That’s a side of her that others would rarely see because she appears to have a very optimistic outlook in life and always looks happy.

Simin and I were lying on the field in front of the arch

But in reality, she rarely says no to others because she doesn’t know how to reject them. She’ll also procrastinate doing her assignments all the time. A lot of her time would be spent on prioritizing her long to-do lists and completing her homework. By going to St. Louis, she was liberated from the usual routines in life, even if it was only temporary. At that moment, there was nothing else she had to worry about, apart from living the present.

We were rolling on the grass, running around and jumping about on the grass patch in front of the arch, something that we’ve not done in such a long while. The feeling of doing nothing useful and remembering how to live had some what a soothing effect. As city kids, we grew up on a tiny island-like country, surrounded by tall concrete buildings and few empty spaces. We never really had the luxury of space and even time to savor what we see or experience daily. Perhaps, being able to move around freely on a vast patch of land was relaxing for the fatigued body and mind of trying to be better than the others.

Simin bustling with energy

Growing up was another process that we never really had the choice to choose how fast we want to go be moving. As a single child, she saw that she had to responsibility to care for her mom and dad who are not particularly well to do. She misses them back home, yet at the same time, was glad that she could be away from them for a while, to see how it was like living on her own, even at the cost of taking up loans for her study abroad program. For a moment, escaping from home and anything associated with a place that feels so faraway is a form of liberation.

I wonder when she said she had the freedom, did she meant that she was free from her assignment deadlines or was it because of a change in spatial perspective or was it because she has found room for independence?

This reminds me of a quote from Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being

“The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become.

Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.

What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”